AUDIENCE GUIDE AUDIENCE 2019
- 2020 | 2020 60thSeason Our | Issue 3
A Note from Skylight Artistic Director Michael Unger Skylight Music Theatre was born on Gilbert & Sullivan and we have produced 55 of their works over our 60 years. Of the 409 productions Skylight has presented, fully 13.6% have been Gilbert, Sullivan, or both. In fact, in the 1960-61 season alone, Skylight presented
nearly one-half of the entire G & S canon!
Our Ruddigore team, with their customary creative perspective and ingenuity, have made a mashup of two seemingly disparate worlds: Gilbert & Sullivan and silent movies – and found connections and cooperation therein. This production promises to be clever, by definition, but also revelatory in execution.
Michael Unger IN THIS ISSUE Artistic Director A Dynamite An Underperformed Gem To this Composer/Librettist Team end, How is it that one of Gilbert and Sullivan’s Music most fantastical farces hasn’t been Director A Method to Their Madness performed at Skylight in forty years? It’s Tim certainly got all the right elements: the Rebers wicked witch who issues a terrible curse has An Orchestra of Voices upon the House of Murgatroyd (“Each lord created a of Ruddigore, despite his best endeavor, wildly shall do one crime or more, once every day, inventive The World of Silent Film for ever!”) as she is burned at the stake. (almost) Then there’s the kindhearted young man a cappella The Magic Lozenge with a dark past and the prim young orches- ingénue who falls for him; the dastardly tration, villain, the bumbling servant, the beautiful nimble Quibbling woman driven mad for want of love. enough If you think that sounds like a Gothic for the melodrama, you might be onto something. Studio Or, in any case, you’d be pretty close. Theatre. Ruddigore was written as a parody of a And co-Stage Directors Jill Anna Ponasik Victorian stage melodrama, an extremely and Catie O’Donnell have found a trove of popular genre in Gilbert and Sullivan’s era. inspiration for the production’s visual design In bringing Ruddigore to the Studio Theatre, in Pre-Code Hollywood and silent film. our Creative Team endeavored to create a Skylight has performed Ruddigore three version which honored Gilbert’s satirical times in its history – 1961, 1967, and 1979. intent, while conceiving of the production in Here’s to a fantastic fourth time around! intimate “Skylight Style”.
This guide is available online at skylightmusictheatre.org
A Dynamite Composer/Librettist Team A Method to Their Madness Despite a relationship that was not always amicable, Gilbert and Sullivan
developed a highly idiosyncratic working method, which can be seen as a key to the success of their collaborations.
Having already done a great deal of brainstorming and tinkering, Gilbert would begin by presenting Sullivan with a proposed dramatic scenario. If Sullivan approved (he often did not, citing Gilbert’s repetitive, fluffy plotlines), they would collaboratively determine the musical structure – how many numbers to include, which would be solos, duets, William Schwenk Gilbert (1836-1911) The son of a military bandleader, Arthur choruses, etc. Gilbert then wrote lyrics was a librettist, playwright, and stage Sullivan (1842-1900) was raised in a and sent them in batches to Sullivan, director, whose fourteen enormously musical household. From an early age, who set them first rhythmically and then influential collaborations with composer he excelled as an instrumentalist and melodically to create the vocal lines. Arthur Sullivan form the cornerstone of singer, and wrote his first composition at Concurrently, Gilbert wrote the spoken the English operetta repertoire and laid age eight. In 1856, he attended the dialogue and prepared to stage the the groundwork for much of what is Royal Academy of Music, where he was production. He was meticulous in his considered “musical theater” today. exposed to Mendelssohn, Schubert, preparation, making models of the Initially trained as a barrister and civil Verdi, and Wagner. Upon graduation, he actors, set, and props to determine every servant, Gilbert turned his attentions to embarked on a composition career, and gesture, inflection, and bit of stage writing in the 1860s, penning short supplemented his income by working as business in advance. In rehearsals, stories, lyrics, and theater reviews. a church organist and music teacher. Gilbert was extremely demanding, His Bab Ballads – short comedic poems Though Sullivan came to be forever insisting on verbatim memorization and accompanied by original illustrations – associated with Gilbert, their conflicting perfect enunciation from the actors. allowed him to develop his unique personalities often created friction in their Once Sullivan had gotten a grasp of “topsy-turvy” style, in which humor is partnership. Moreover, Sullivan yearned Gilbert’s staging, he spent the early derived by following a ludicrous premise to write works he deemed sufficiently rehearsals improvising piano to its logical conclusion. This style would serious, and in 1883, he agreed to accompaniments and the later ones come to characterize his theatrical work continue collaborating with Gilbert only orchestrating them. Finally, the finished with Sullivan, and he often returned to for financial reasons. Nonetheless, the product, staged under Gilbert’s exacting the Ballads as inspiration for plotlines. deceptive simplicity of his conservative eye and conducted under Sullivan’s In 1871, theatrical producer John musical style complemented Gilbert’s graceful baton, was premiered. Hollingshead brought Gilbert and witty lyrics perfectly, allowing them to be Sullivan together to create their first intelligibly articulated by the performers, collaboration, Thespis, though it was not while also enhancing their emotional until they reunited in 1875 to create Trial impact. Transcending personality by Jury under the auspices of impresario conflicts and artistic differences, Gilbert Richard D’Oyly Carte that they began to and Sullivan’s words and music created realize their full potential. alchemical magic onstage. Over a century later, Gilbert remains a The magic lasted until April 1890, when paradox: to all outward appearances Gilbert vehemently objected to being stern and ill-tempered, yet capable of partially billed by D’Oyly Carte for carpet crafting delightfully absurd scenarios and in the lobby of the Savoy Theatre. In the witticisms. As British director Mike Leigh ensuing “Carpet Quarrel”, Sullivan sided (whose film Topsy-Turvy chronicles the with Carte, and though the matter was creation of The Mikado) puts it, Gilbert eventually resolved in Gilbert’s favor in “saw the world as a chaotic place, in court, the relationship was irrevocably which our lives are brutal accidents of damaged. They collaborated just twice birth, fate and human blunder, a jungle of more, but didn’t achieve the same level “The Ironmaster at the Savoy”, an 1884 confusion and delusion...where nobody of success as they previously had illustration by Alfred Bryan for The Entr’acte is really who or what they seem to be." enjoyed. They subsequently parted Annual, depicting Gilbert towering over Quoted in The Guardian, 4 Nov 2006 ways, never to work together again. D’Oyly Carte with the Mallet of Discipline. 2019-2020 | SKYLIGHT MUSIC THEATRE
An Orchestra of Voices A Note from Music Director and Orchestrator Tim Rebers Sullivan's score for Ruddigore is filled with unique orchestrations and instrumental colors which are impossible to do justice to on a single keyboard. Besides wonderfully expressive choral writing, the score also features many moments of orchestral accompaniment which almost have the feeling of vocal writing. These thoughts, coupled with the intimacy of the studio theatre, inspired my concept for a new, predominantly a cappella version of Ruddigore. Knowing the high quality of singers I was writing for allowed me to explore the full palette of vocal colors: operatic to jazzy; beautiful golden tones to wispy, nasal, breathy, or even ugly. Within this new exclusively vocal world, we've recreated Sullivan's rich tapestry of sound – an orchestra of voices!
A comparison of the Piano/Vocal score (left) with the newly-orchestrated a cappella version by Ruddigore Music Director Tim Rebers (right).
The World of Silent Film At first glance, silent film and Gilbert & Sullivan may seem like strange bedfellows. On one hand, silent film relies predominantly on visual modes of storytelling, with dialogue interspersed only sporadically in the form of title cards; on the other, Gilbert’s intricate comedic wordplay constitutes an essential aspect of his dramaturgy. Yet, upon closer inspection, commonalities between the mediums abound, and the two seemingly disparate artforms may fit together more comfortably than they initially appear. There is perhaps no greater actor-director of early cinema than Buster Keaton. Along with Charlie Chaplin and Harold Lloyd, Keaton came to epitomize the Silent Movie Comedian, designing and performing elaborate (often dangerous) stunts and sight gags, which always ended in a perfectly-timed comedic payoff. Keaton sought to use as few title cards as possible, letting the visual tools at his disposal – gesture, movement, and pantomime – do the heavy lifting. Buster Keaton pictured above in The Cameraman (1928) Dramatic films of this and at right with Jimmy Durante in What! No Beer? (1933). Lillian and Dorothy Gish pictured below in their film debut, era were equally D.W. Griffith’s An Unseen Enemy (1912). dependent on images to convey meaning, and many silent film actors relied on intense facial expressions and body language to communicate emotion in the absence of words. Although this broad, expressionistic style of acting would strike a modern day viewer as over-the-top, its raw power to articulate even the most inexpressible emotion is impossible to deny. Both slapstick and high drama find a home in the paradoxical, multi- faceted world of Ruddigore. As melodrama, it wears its heart on its sleeve; as parody, it pokes fun at the intensity of feeling expressed so freely. And so, their unlikely pairing may just be the perfect combination to realize Gilbert’s directorial dictum “to tell a perfectly outrageous story in a completely deadpan way.” Mike Leigh, The Guardian, 4 Nov 2006 AUDIENCE GUIDE | RUDDIGORE
The Magic Lozenge The Magic Lozenge is a plot device whereby, through the possession or consumption of a magical agent (such as a talisman or love potion), a character’s personality is radically altered. The use of an enchanted lozenge traces back to one of Gilbert’s unrealized projects in which the characters fell in love against their will after taking one. Gilbert was especially fond of the trope, and proposed including it in several of his collaborations with Sullivan. Although outwardly ridiculous, variations on the Magic Lozenge motif are actually widespread throughout operatic history, appearing in such works as Donizetti’s Elixir of Love (1832), Wagner’s Tristan and Isolde (1865), and Britten’s Albert Herring (1947). Far from frivolous, the journey of the lozenge-taker serves as a means to explore the emotional implications of the unexpected, earth-shattering events which life sometimes throws our way: the potion imbibed by Tristan and Isolde sets their ill- fated love affair into motion; Albert Herring’s night of drunken revelry becomes a vehicle for introspection and self-discovery. In this respect, the Magic Lozenge connects the inner lives of the characters directly to the audience, whose satisfaction is derived from experiencing both silliness and profundity at the same time. This profundity, however, was apparently lost on Sullivan, whose dislike of supernatural plot devices prevented Gilbert from including them in nearly all their collaborations. The closest example can be found in their early work, The Sorcerer, in which a love potion serves as the catalyst to the dramatic action. In Ruddigore, Gilbert covertly incorporates a subtle variation on the Magic Lozenge motif in the form of the Witch’s Curse, which alters not only the personality of one individual, but of a family line spanning many generations. Though nonsensical on its face, the psychological toll of committing a daily crime is ghoulishly articulated in Sir Despard’s introductory aria: “Oh, why am I husky and hoarse? It’s the workings of conscience of course. And huskiness stands for remorse.” Who else but Gilbert could write a lyric at once so macabre and so sublime?
Quibbling Another of Gilbert’s favored plot devices, quibbling, occurs when a character fulfills the exact verbal conditions of a contract literally so as to avoid satisfying the contact’s intended conditions. Theater history’s most famous quibble belongs to The Merchant of Venice’s Portia, who discovers a loophole in Antonio and Shylock’s agreement: although Shylock is entitled to a pound of Antonio’s flesh, shedding even a drop of his blood is not expressly allowed by the contract; and since one cannot procure a pound of flesh without shedding blood, the terms of the contract cannot be fulfilled without Shylock breaking the law. Glibert’s experience as a barrister gave him an intimate knowledge of the intricacies of British law, but more importantly, of its absurdity. Thus, in Gilbert’s world, quibbling is always employed for a dual purpose: to advance or resolve the plot and to poke fun at what Gilbert perceived as an arbitrary, overly-complex, and excessively punitive legal system: in The Pirates of Penzance, Frederic, having been born on Leap Day, is determined to only have reached the age of five on his twenty-first birthday, with dire legal consequences; conversely, Ko-ko bends the law to his advantage through semantic trickery at the end of The Mikado. Given that the Witch’s Curse is essentially a contract (albeit one whose terms were foisted on many generations against their will), could a quibble find its way into Ruddigore’s resolution? You’ll just have to watch and find out!
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Research/Writing by Danny Brylow for ENLIGHTEN, Skylight Music Theatre’s Education Program
AUDIENCE GUIDE | RUDDIGORE 2019-2020 | SKYLIGHT MUSIC THEATRE